“The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. It confines the field of action of this law to the limits absolutely convenient to capital’s drive to exploit and dominate the workers (Marx, 1867, Capital, volume I, Penguin edition, p. 792).”
This post is part I of a series discussing the labour market under capitalism. In this part, I am addressing the issue of persistent unemployment in capitalism and the introduction of workfare in the UK specifically. I am addressing both economic and political inconsistencies of the introduction of workfare under Capitalism and Bourgeois Democracy. I conclude this post by addressing the crisis of bourgeois democracy that is exemplified by the contradictions between the introduction of forced labour and human rights, one of the strongest weapons belonging to the ideology of bourgeois democracy.
Workfare, a welfare to work scheme, which forces welfare recipients to work to earn their benefit, has existed for some time in the US (see: 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P… and for a comparison between state workfare programmes in the US see: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~gwall… Originally introduced in the UK by Labour in 1998 and insultingly called the “The New Deal” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N… ), it enabled penalties for those that refused “reasonable work” and established courses and volunteer work to get those on benefits into work and provided tax credits for working families to keep them working.
However, the attempt by the current government in the UK to extend it has led to both legal action and resistance on the part of those being forced to labour. The 2010 “Work for your Benefits Pilot Scheme” ( http://www.legislation.gov.uk/… ) and the extension of the “Mandatory Work Activity scheme” (2011: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/… http://www.parliament.uk/docum… which is supposedly for those that are not on board with the shift from welfare to work strategy of the government) in numbers of “customers” forced to labour without pay and in light of severe criticism in terms of the introduction of forced labour as well as the known ineffectiveness of these schemes is more than questionable. However, it is certainly consistent with the policies and beliefs of the current government.
The second part of this series will concentrate on workfare in the UK and the actions that are part of the fight-back against the extension of workfare and this will go up tomorrow at 12 noon eastern.
One of the most important contradictions in the capitalist economic system lies in the nature of the labour market itself. On the one hand, capitalism requires free labour; that is, free in the sense that it is no longer tied by law to specific aristocrats that provided subsistence in exchange for labour on their land as serfs or tied to specific masters as slaves. In fact, the existence of slavery and indentured servitude in the US arose initially due to the insufficient number of labourers; it continued due to racism and the usefulness of divide and rule amongst working people. While not denying the importance of morality and human decency, when it started to be an impediment with the development of the domestic market, capital moved to eliminate it. Free labour means that instead labour is free to sell its labour to obtain subsistence. On the other hand, the dependence upon wages earned through labour means that they are subject to the vagaries of the labour market itself and the needs of profitability and capital accumulation within the system itself. However, from its earliest, capitalism and unemployment go hand in hand. The numbers of workers needed by the system depends essentially on profitability criterion; full employment is a fantasy, even in periods of rapid economic growth.